Opinion: Is state’s salvation really dope, casinos?
At the state Capitol the issue is being framed as whether Connecticut should legalize marijuana.
But that’s not really the issue at all, since marijuana long has been effectively legal in the state for several reasons: because of its common use and the reluctance of courts to punish people for it; because possession of small amounts has been reduced to an infraction; because marijuana production and sales have been legalized for medical purposes; and because the federal government has stopped enforcing its own law against marijuana in those states that don’t want it enforced.
The real issue is whether state government should get into the marijuana business — licensing dealers and taxing sales in the hope of raising as much as $100 million per year to offset state government’s financial collapse.
Such a scheme would introduce marijuana to many more people, especially minors, who, even if the age for purchase is set at 21, will get it from their older friends, just as minors now get alcohol. As has happened with legalization in Colorado, many more students will come to school stoned or get stoned there. Intoxicated driving will increase, even if much of the increase will result from Connecticut’s refusal to prosecute first offenses. And since Connecticut’s criminal sanctions against marijuana have largely disappeared already, legalization won’t give the state much financial relief on the criminal-justice side of the budget.
There’s another problem with licensing and taxing: It would constitute nullification of federal drug law. Nothing obliges Connecticut’s criminal statutes to match the federal government’s, but licensing and taxing, profiting from federal crimes, is secession — and unless federal drug law was changed, the federal government could smash Connecticut’s marijuana infrastructure at any time.
In any case the half-century of President Nixon’s “war on drugs” has shown that drug criminalization is futile and may have only worsened drug addiction while maiming millions of lives with prison sentences. The drug problem needs to be medicalized, which, while increasing the availability of drugs, will also increase treatment and eliminate most crime and imprisonment expense.
But the General Assembly isn’t considering medicalization. Instead the Legislature is giving the impression that the state’s salvation lies in taxing potheads and more casino gambling. Even if that could close its budget deficit, what kind of state would this be?
The big argument for the General Assembly’s approval of Gov. Malloy’s renomination of Justice Richard Palmer to the state Supreme Court was that judicial independence required it. This was nonsense, a rationale for accepting whatever appellate judges do to rewrite constitutions.
The freedom of judges to decide particular cases within established frameworks of the law is one thing. The freedom of judges to rewrite not just the law but constitutions themselves is another, which is what Palmer did in the Supreme Court’s decisions on same-sex marriage and capital punishment.
Public officials in Connecticut have certain insulation, but none is completely above deliberative democracy. The legislators who voted against reappointing Justice Palmer had good cause consistent with good constitutional practice.